A month and a half ago, I scheduled my end-of-service meeting with our volunteer coordinator in Dakar and started to plan for my return to the US. I cannot believe it, but, in a short, couple weeks, I will be ending my time with Tostan and will be heading home! While I am very, very excited to be heading back to the US and seeing my friends and family, as my departure date approaches, however, I have begun to get anxious about leaving. I have called Senegal and The Gambia “home” for almost a full year and have been working at Tostan for just as long. Soon, I will be packing up my big duffle bag and saying goodbye to this place and to the people with whom I have shared many unique memories. Not knowing when, or even if, I will ever be back makes this whole process all the more difficult.
This all being said, I have begun internally to process my time here in Senegal and The Gambia. I came up with a list of ten things I will definitely miss about this place … and, of course, ten things I will most certainly be sad to be leaving. Neither grouping is any particular order; they are just listed as I thought of them. Let’s start with the negative so as to end on a positive note!
10 Things I Will NOT Miss About Senegal and The Gambia
1.) Blackouts and Water Shortages in Basse! I am still surprised how much the power problems in Basse affected me. During the 25+ day blackout in February and March, I really was at a low point in my time here. As bad as the power is, most people I have talked to agree that the water outages are by far the worse of the two evils. When the power is out, you can adapt with flashlights, candles, and planning ahead. When the water is out, you cannot bathe, shower, or wash clothes and dishes. Fortunately, the water outages are a bit less infrequent than the blackouts here in Basse … fortunately.
2.) Public Transportation of Any Kind! I have ranted about this before, so I won’t get into it again. Suffice to say, I am very much looking forward to my last sept-places ride in a few weeks!
Me and My Ride
3.) Toubab! Unlike most of my other non-African friends, I am not bothered too much by the word “toubab” itself or the attitude it connotes. What does bother me, however, is that I am addressed as “Toubab” and not as “Sir” or “Monsieur”. I understand that by using toubab, it limits the pool of people who a person could be referencing, but when a Senegambian speaks to another Senegambian, he doesn’t address him as “black man” or “Senegambian”. There is some hope, however! I was in Boro Dampha Kunda this weekend and one father explained to his son, who had just screamed toubab at me, that my name was Samba and that I should be referred to by name … I could not believe this!
4.) Defending America. A friend of mine, Eve, who is in the Peace Corps in South Africa recently posted something about how being away from America has made her more patriotic, and this honestly could not be truer. Having seen how it is in other places, I appreciate all the more so many aspects of the United States and the American culture. Now, the United States is far from a perfect place—we can all agree—but it does get a lot of things right. This being said, I am pretty tired of being the unofficial spokesperson for the American Government in Senegambia. No, I do not agree with everything my Government does, and its actions do not reflect on me as an individual. I think that Gambians, unable to criticize their own government, more than make up for it in their criticism of America’s.
5.) Sleeping at Night. This is a sad one: I do not look forward to sleeping here, no matter how tired I am. My mat is uncomfortable; the heat is unbearable (especially in Basse, where there is no power at night for a fan); and the various wildlife activity at night still unnerves me.
6.) Change! Do me a favor: Take out your wallet, kiss your debit card, and tell it how much you appreciate it! In a cash economy, where change is a hot commodity, I am constantly aware of what bills I have in my pocket and planning purchases based off which shops or stalls will have change. 100 Dalasi ($3+) and 10.000 CFA ($20) bills, the largest denominations in The Gambia and Senegal respectively, are horrible, horrible things and should be avoided at all costs.
7.) “African Time” If you ever hear a Senegambian say to you “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes”, you know two things: 1.) He is lying; and 2.) He will most certainly NOT be there in anything close to fifteen minutes. You roll with the punches and you get used to this, I guess …
8.) Sweating and THE HEAT. I do have to say I have adjusted to the heat much more than I expected to, but there is only so much one can do when it is 115+ degrees outside … I really, really dislike sweating, especially when it shows through your clothing. The only time I am not sweating on any given day is when I am bathing, and, even then, on some days, I sweat during that too. Yes, it gets hot in America, but, in America, we have air conditioned buildings, houses, and cars … and things called “breezes”.
9.) Slow / Non-existent Internet. This one is pretty self-explanatory. Have you seen that new Youtube video or that Buzzfeed article? No, no I have not …
10.) Mbalax Music. Mbalax music is a fusion of modern hip-hop with Senegambian traditional music. I associate it most closely with the sabar drum. I thought I liked this when I first heard in my Wolof classes at BU, but I was wrong. I do not like the rhythm and find the drumming annoying. When you go out dancing in Dakar, beware of “Mbalax Hour”, the hour each night when they play nothing but mbalax music …
10 Things I Will Miss About Senegal and The Gambia
1.) Running after Work: Yes, I know I can run after work no matter where I am, but here in The Gambia, I run through past the two closest villages outside of Basse that lead up to Senegal. At one stretch, I run alongside open fields as the cattle herds are being led back. The cows kick up so much dirt that it looks as if fog is descending on the earth. If I time it correctly, I arrive just as the sun is setting, and, man, it is so beautiful! A huge orange fireball in the air, purples and blues throughout the sky, all seen through the dust clouds kicked up by the cattle and through the wrinkly baobab trees that dot the landscape.
This photo does not do it justice …
2.) Speaking Many Different Languages in One Day. One day last week, I woke up in our office in Kombo and chatted in Wolof with the cook in our office while we ate breakfast. I then attended a meeting in French with a visitor from Senegal, and then conversed about Mauritanian sociolinguistics with another visitor in Arabic. I went back to my desk and finished a report in English and sent it to our Grants Officer in Dakar in an email I wrote in Dutch, something I’ve been learning lately. Anyone who knows me will know how awesome I find this! I really hope in my next job I am able to practice other languages as often as I am here in Senegambia.
3.) Unpredictability. As much as the lack of communication may bother me, I usually do love the resulting unpredictability. One day I may end up doing site visits on the North Bank of River Gambia, while the next, I could be on my way to a wedding or a naming ceremony. Just roll with it and have an easy going attitude and you’ll be fine!
4.) Mango Minties! In The Gambia, they sell these mango hard candies called “Melouky”, although everyone refers to them as Mango Minties. They. Are. Amazing. It could just be because they sell nothing else sweet in Basse, but that can’t be it!
5.) My Coworkers. This is by far the easiest one to add to this list. My coworkers are simply phenomenal. I have shared so many amazing moments with them. They have graciously invited me into their homes for holidays and special family events. It is so comforting to know that so many people are constantly looking out for you and are so eager to work with you. I dread my last day at the office here in Basse because I will miss these people so much.
With some coworkers in Boro Dampha Kunda
6.) Fieldwork! One of the reasons I requested a change from my position in Senegal was because of my wanting to gain experience in the field. Here in The Gambia, I have been able to complete much more fieldwork and attend more events in the field. This has been the most rewarding aspect of my professional experience here in West Africa, and I am confident this will benefit me in the future.
7.) My Fellow Volunteers! Tostan is fortunate to have such a great cast of characters that make up its Volunteer Program. These people have been my support group this entire time for when I need I break from Senegambia. I am happy to be leaving here having made some strong friendships and am so eager to see what successes and adventures the others will have in the years to come!
With Kelsey and Meagan, two volunteers I started with last June
8.) Down time. Since there is, in actuality, less to do here in Basse (and even less so when the power is out), I have a lot more time on my hands when I am not working. This allows me more time to sit and chat with people, run, read, study languages, and watch movies. While I am definitely more of a “hustle and bustle” kind of guy, I will miss this slower pace of life.
9.) The Tostan Approach. This is a bit difficult to explain: For the past year, I have been working so closely with Tostan’s programs through monitoring and evaluation, donor reports, and site visits. I have such a firm grasp on Tostan programs, the active projects in The Gambia, and how things work in this organization. Simply put: I know what I am doing here and having to start all over somewhere new will be a challenging adjustment.
10.) Ceeb … Ceeb is the Wolof word for rice, and, in my mind, refers to the rice varieties found in Senegambian dishes. I eat rice—honestly—every single day I am here, usually more than once a day at that! I am over rice … or so I thought. I was in Dakar last week for a meeting and made a point not to eat rice the entire weekend I was there. On Sunday, while walking along the road, my friends and I smelt ceeb being cooked and I blurted out that I wanted some. So, I guess I will miss Senegambian food after all …!
I have a really busy next couple of weeks before I head back to Dakar to return to the US! Be on the lookout for one or two more posts before I head home. I hope all of you back home are doing well, especially all my friends and family in Boston! I hope things are starting to return to normal there!
Miss you all and see you soon!